KEARNS -- Eight years ago, Nick Pearson was considered a rising star in long-track speedskating when, at age 22, he finished sixth in both the 1,000 and 1,500 meters in his first Olympic Games.
Maybe it came a little too easy. The 6-foot-4 Mukwonago (Wis.) High School graduate didn't progress the way many thought he would and failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2006.
Frustrated and burned out, he retired, took a job and started attending classes at the University of Utah.
But he got the itch to skate again about two years ago and Saturday he completed a satisfying comeback by qualifying to skate the 500 meters at the Winter Games in Vancouver.
"I'm as pumped as can be," Pearson said. "It's a weight off my shoulders.
"Not making the Olympic team in 2006 was quite difficult for me. To be back where I was after eight years is an unbelievable feeling."
Several Americans shined on the second day of the final fall World Cup at the Olympic Oval.
Jennifer Rodriguez, who also retired after a dismal performance at the 2006 Olympics only to un-retire 18 months ago, broke her own American record in the women's 1,500.
Rodriguez, a double bronze medal-winner in '02, finished third in the race in 1 minute 54.19 seconds. She held the previous U.S. record of 1:54.61, set Nov. 20, 2005.
"It's been a long time since I've seen one of those (personal bests)," Rodriguez said. "Today when I woke up, I said, 'I might have some legs under me today.'
"It's nothing to get over-excited about. I still have a lot of work to do."
Tucker Fredricks of Janesville, Wis., finished third in the 500 in 34.35 seconds, a bit faster than the 34.43 he skated Friday. He had at least one podium finish in every World Cup.
"I think I'm in a pretty good position right now," Fredricks said. "A podium in all the World Cups. I'm really happy about that. Now I've got to put two good races together (in Vancouver). That's what I'm going to be training for the next two months."
Finally, Chad Hedrick had a good race in the 5,000, finishing sixth in 6:13.51 despite fading over the final three laps. He won gold in the 5K in Turin but has focused his training for the 1,500 in Vancouver.
"Things are getting better," Hedrick said. "I had targeted 6:15 and that was being optimistic. I felt great technically. I just wish I would have had the legs to go three more laps.
"I know I turned some heads today."
Shani Davis, who shattered the world record in the 1,500 on Friday, finished ninth in the 5,000. Enrico Fabris of Italy won the race with an Olympic Oval record time of 6:06.06.
Pearson, 30, finished eighth in the B Division 500 but locked up his spot on the Olympic team by having the third-fastest time among Americans this fall. Fredricks and Davis qualified for the top two spots based on World Cup points.
The U.S. gets four starting spots in Vancouver; the final spot will be determined in Olympic trials at the end of December.
"I'm kind of surprised, to tell you the truth, because the 500 isn't one of my strongest events," Pearson said. "The 1,000 is my strongest, by far. I can relax now and skate the kind of 1,000 I know how to skate."
Fredricks, one of Pearson's closest friends, said, "I'm super proud of him. It's been a long time for him and I know he's excited about it."
Other race winners Saturday were Christine Nesbitt of Canada in the women's 1,500 (1:52.77), Kyou-Hyuk Lee of Korea in the men's 500 (34.26) and Wang Beixing of China in the women's 500 (37.02).
Racing concludes Sunday with the men's and women's 1,000 and team pursuit. This is the final international competition for long-track speedskaters until the Olympics.